A week ago Joanne posted Unschooling Voices #1. The question for the July edition was, “How did you and your family come to unschooling?” Because of the schedule I’ve been running, I didn’t have the opportunity to answer the question in time for the July edition. But I do think it is a question worth answering. Before I get to that…
The optional August question is, “Do you extend the principles of unschooling (trust, freedom, etc) into any other areas of your child’s life?”. (Details on submitting blog posts)
The simple explanation of how our family came to unschooling is that it was all a matter of time. But that doesn’t really say very much. TBH, I have known for years that there was a single moment at which I stepped onto the path that through many twists, turns and dead ends eventually lead to unschooling.
A little over 10 years ago, our oldest was in his third year of school. At the time, we were still somewhat following a school-at-home program. He was doing math that he had originally learned two years before. In the course of helping him with it, I came to the startling realization that even though he knew how to do the math, he had no idea as to why he was doing it beyond that was the way it was done. What I wanted to say next was some estimate of how long it took me to get over that. I spent about 5 minutes thinking about it. I have a sneaky suspicion that I haven’t gotten over it and that I probably never will. In any event, I spent the next week or two helping him understand why we borrow when we subtract.
I could write pages and pages describing hundreds of things that happened between then and now. I can summarize it somewhat tangentally. All of my teenage children are excellent at math because the only interest I had in teaching them was that they understood what it was for, what purpose it served and why it works the way it does. If you ask them a question that involves math it is unlikely that any of them will reach for a pencil in paper. They do math in their head. If you are wondering what approach we used in planning and adjusting over the years, the simple version would be that if it didn’t work, we threw it out. No preconceived idea/assumption or ‘proven method’ was exempt from the possibility that it was erroneous.
There are times, of course, when most of us second guess ourselves. But unschooling is not something about which I second guess. When you are standing on the side of the road in the dark and your child is tangled up in a bent up mountain bike describing the symptoms of his injuries, you don’t have alot of time to decide what is important. What you think about in the hours and days that follow define that for you. Speaking from experience, whether your child can list off the political leaders of your country through history is not important. Being able to compose a paper conforming to APA standards does not make or break a life (and is, in fact, worthless to you in a situation like that). Given the amount of the typical child’s life that is invested in school, I believe our society has a serious priority problem.
IMHO: Rote learning is worthless. Sitting a child at a desk and giving him or her a sheet of math questions to do which serves no purpose to the child beyond proving to you that that the child is capable (or demonstrating that in those circumstances he or she can’t or chooses not to) is a hideous offense to another life which is every bit as valuable as your own.
In refering to the accident above, I hope I haven’t suggested that prior to it we spent alot of time second guessing what we were doing because that wasn’t the case. There are things that come along in life which are gateposts from which there is no turning back.
(For readers who have joined since we started this blog, in the Fall of 2004, because of the glare of headlights from oncoming traffic, Addison hit a washout on the shoulder of the road, flipped his mountain bike and broke 4 vertabrae in his neck.)